A number of unemployed doctors have spoken out against the Department of Health (DoH) who have failed to allocate them internships, community service, or job placement. Young medical graduates need to complete an internship and community service before they can practise medicine independently. However, a number of doctors have not been placed due to a lack of available posts, of funding for vacant posts and problems with the application process. Sue Liang* (24), who completed her MBChB last year and graduated in March, still hasn’t been placed for internship after she requested to start in February and not January for personal reasons. Liang has been working at a call-centre part-time trying to pay off some of her student debt.
I graduated in March 2017. But I completed my studies last year. I actually was placed in George to complete my internship, and that was the very first time. They required me to go to work from January already, but I had some personal reasons and I could only start in February. I know some places that can keep posts for doctors, but apparently that doesn’t apply in the Western Cape. I emailed them every week, I emailed George every week, and I even called the secretary. They always say they’ll check their emails, they’ll check their emails, they will reply to the emails, but they never did. I was in a WhatsApp group in George, I had to contact a doctor there to find out for me if they can keep the post for me. Then, after three weeks, after trying to contact them, the doctor that I contacted said they’ll phone me. Later on, I didn’t get a call from George, I got a call from the Department of Health from Western Cape, saying they are unable to keep the post for me, and that I need to re-register and try again.
I was thinking, if I knew this will happen to me earlier on, I would have swopped my place with someone in some other provinces, that would keep the post for me until February. A lot of doctors actually were in the same situation as me, but they got posts in other provinces that kept their places for them. That’s what happened to me, now I’m with everyone else who is not placed.
I found a part-time job at a telecommunication company, doing documentary work, as project administrator. I’m a qualified doctor and I just have to do my internship. I only signed for a three-month contract, when the three months are up, I’ll probably be unemployed again. And I still need to pay the Health Professions Council of South Africa membership fees; I still need to repay the study loans and all the other expenses.
Apparently it’s compulsory for all newly qualified doctors to complete their internship within three years of qualification. If all else fails I’ll probably want to go overseas. I don’t know what will happen if we don’t complete the two years’ internship in three years, but this is clearly not our fault. I would consider moving overseas, I’ve been actually looking for resources to write board exams and stuff.
I became a doctor because I’ve always wanted to work in a hospital, to help as many people as I can. I wanted to become a vet, but I realised I had to put animals down, I couldn’t do that. I was just thinking maybe I could put my passion on humans instead. It’s not the salary that I’m looking at, it’s the job that I do in hospital, I just love it. It’s just, the system just fails us every time we try to sort it out.
The Department keep having empty promises saying February they would start, February comes, I called them, and I emailed them, then they said first of March is the selection process, then March comes, same story. They said they would start in April – it’s been two weeks now. They said they had been having this technical problem. I don’t know what’s going on, it’s very frustrating.
As told to Shaazia Ebrahim, edited for brevity and clarity.
*Name has been changed